My friend recently shared with me this very honest, raw short video from Postpartum Progress, and it really hit home with me, as I am sure it will with many of you. I’ve noticed that many people assume a woman who experiences perinatal or postpartum mood disorders must already have a tendency towards mood disorders before being pregnant or having a baby, but this is not always the case. And even if it is often the case, does it really matter when the mood disorder begins? The hormones released during pregnancy and postpartum can wreak havoc on a mother’s mental and physical self for months after delivery.
After I had my eldest, N, via a very unexpected, premature and forced c-section, I went into a deep funk for about 8 weeks. I had no problem bonding with N, but I could not connect with anyone else. I felt such shame, sadness, and a deep sense of loss at not having had the birth experience I wanted- the one I had prepared for emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually for almost 10 months! I felt robbed of one of nature’s most precious gifts to women, and to this day, I wish it could have gone differently. For weeks, I couldn’t return phone calls, emails, and I only told a handful of extremely close friends about my c-section because thinking and talking about it was too painful to accept. I didn’t want to see friends, and I was very protective of our three person cocoon that I had built. It felt like walking through a hazy fog, and although I didn’t feel like myself, and I didn’t really understand what was happening, I was able to keep up my self-care and take care of N.
Often, after I would share my disappointment about my experience with people, they would say something like, “well at least you had a healthy baby, that’s all that matters.” But I was never in danger of losing the baby- at no time in my 20 hour labor were either of our heart rates or pulses dropping nor were we ever in danger. What happened to me was not because of a medical need and I have never let go of that. After almost seven years I have come to terms with it and I have accepted that it happened the way it happened, but for the first couple years I still had a lot of anger, sadness, and deep sense of loss. I felt a bit of whiplash every time someone said those words to me, “well at least you had a healthy baby, that’s all that matters.” Because that wasn’t all that mattered, at least not to me. I had such high hopes and expectations for my birth that the circumstances surrounding it left me with a bit of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and it took me weeks to be able to utter the words, “I had a c-section,” months to feel like my old self, and years before I really understood that I had suffered from some form of a postpartum mood disorder.
Until I had my second baby, R, 18 months ago, I never felt like I had given birth. I knew I had delivered a baby but when I exchanged birth stories with other women I always secretly felt like I standing on the outside of this exclusive inner circle admiring those within. If I ever said that out loud to other women, they always seemed a bit surprised but it was how I honestly felt, and if there is one thing I learned from my postpartum experience, it is that it’s vital to share our true selves with other women, and to speak openly about our feelings and experiences surrounding pregnancy, birth and parenting. If we don’t, then the stigma that comes with perinatal and postpartum mood disorders will continue. Yes, I had an emotionally challenging and disappointing first birth experience. Yes, I suffered from a postpartum mood disorder. But I didn’t let it define me. Slowly, over time, I got myself back, and I learned so much about myself, and my inner strength. I deconstructed that experience and began to glue the pieces back together again, until finally after a long while I began to not only survive, but thrive.